Working from home by choice or by mandate presents a unique set of opportunities and challenges. If you’re new to telecommuting, you might find that without some discipline, you’re waking up well beyond normal work hours and adopting behaviors you would never exhibit on your worst day at the office.
In the beginning you might welcome a day or two late mornings and wearing pajamas past noon. However, sloth mimicry is a habit few professionals would enthusiastically adopt long term. To get the most out of telecommuting, you need to master some best practices.
Create and Maintain a Routine
Recognize the fact that telework requires self-discipline. A day of waking up at 5:00 am followed by one where you rise at 9:00 and another at 10:00 is a pattern on the path to disaster. Adopt some desk hours and stick with them. Also, be sure to take some regular breaks. You need to eat, you need to stand, and you need to stretch. You also need to turn off work when it’s time to go home. Unless you’re in a field that demands it, checking email at midnight is not a good idea. You need to establish psychological boundaries to keep work hours work hours and home hours home hours.
Learn New Technology and Leverage Old
When working from a distance, you should learn how to use popular web-conferencing software, get comfortable on camera, and get ready to meet regularly online. The world is moving to the virtual conference room, and you need to know how to operate in that space. “I don’t like being on camera,” “I’m not a tech person,” and “I’ll just call in,” are excuses that will leave you behind. Nobody looks their best on a webcam; that’s a fact. It’s also a fact that facial expressions, body language, and other visual cues are a big part of communication. If they’re missing, you’re missing out.
In addition to mastering video conferencing, if you’re working with a single screen, consider investing in one or two more. The extra room is a game changer, especially if you don’t have access to a high-speed printer and find yourself having to read a lot of documents on screen that you would have normally printed at the office.
Working alone saves hours, but the lack of chit chat created during casual interactions can also cause your relationships with your coworkers to suffer. To remedy the problem, you need to be deliberate in your communication and schedule time to catch up.
Set aside some minute during your workday to check in with coworkers. Not working on a project that requires meetings? Consider setting up a virtual lunch date instead. Most people who wake up one day feeling isolated and in a funk don’t have a contact plan in place. Prepare for regular social interactions before you start missing them.
Seek Out Opportunity
If you’re working from home and find yourself with extra hours on your hands, it’s time take initiative and learn some new skills. Anything you can do to expand your knowledge, work practices, or professional network could help you later.
- Consider developing an education plan for yourself. For example, instead of faking your way through PowerPoint, learn how to use the slide master, templates, and other features so that tool works for you the way in which its creators intended.
- Look for ways to make your work more efficient. Is it time to organize your email system? Could you benefit from creating rules, using folders, and getting your electronic communication under control once and for all? It can be done, it takes time, and if you have any minutes to spare that you otherwise would have spent commuting, seize the day.
- Get online and expand your business network. Brush up your LinkedIn profile, and start making connections. Look for people with whom you grew up, attended school, or shared an employer at some point during your career. You never know how your efforts to connect could benefit you and others in the future.
Working from home means you have to become more self-reliant. For example, an ounce of prevention can make all the difference when you encounter a tech upset.
Start with the basics. Think about your files and the tools you need to complete your work. For example, do you have a cloud backup? Do you have remote access software so someone in IT can help you if you hit a roadblock?
In addition to technology surprises, consider your short- and long-term goals. If your employer decided to eliminate telework, or your position for that matter, what would you do? Do you have a plan? It’s a lot easier to enact something you created when you weren’t stressed than to craft and start working on a solution when you are.
Create a disaster plan for one, and you’ll be ahead of most people when challenges arise.
Following routines, leveraging tech, being deliberate with communication, setting aside time for growth, and preparing for uncertainty are five ways you can get the most out of a work-at-home experience.
About the Author:
Kate Zabriskie is the president of Business Training Works, Inc., a Maryland-based talent development firm. For more information, visit www.businesstrainingworks.com.